Patience Chatukuta

African Plant Genomics

Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen
Adjunct faculty in: IMPRS


  • PhD, North-West University, South Africa, 2015
  • Senior Lecturer, Chinhoyi University of Technology, Zimbabwe, 2016
  • SA-NRF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, 2017-2020
  • Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen, 2021-2023
  • Project Leader, African Plant Genomics Group, Max Planck Institute for Biology Tübingen, 2023

Research Interest

The vision of the African Plant Genomics Lab is to build partnerships between European and African research institutions, to accelerate the development of genomic resources for under-researched African crops, while training scientists to use cutting-edge technologies to improve plants’ abilities to withstand the effects of climate change. The research group partners with academic research institutions in Africa and takes a genome-centered approach to focus on dissecting the genetic bases for phenotypic variation related to agronomically important traits primarily in horned melon (Cucumis metuliferus). Horned melon exhibits variety-specific phenotypes, including biotic and abiotic stress resistance.

We are interested in answering two central questions:

  1. Which genetic loci are associated with important phenotypes and are thus candidate targets for agronomic improvement of horned melon?
  2. What can the transcriptomic response of horned melon to the pest Meloidogyne incognita reveal about the genetic basis of resistance to root-knot disease?

We are applying a variety of approaches to study how:

  • structural variation in the genome is associated with phenotypic diversity in accessions of horned melon from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique.
  • gene expression and isoform diversity are associated with the response of different accessions of horned melon to the pest nematode Meloidogyne incognita.

The specific methodological approaches include comprehensive plant phenotyping, telomere-to-telomere genome sequencing, and comparative transcriptomics. Research findings will provide insights into the genotypic and phenotypic diversity among horned melon accessions from Africa, which will be a basis for breeding horned melon varieties with improved agronomic traits. The findings will also reveal the plant’s response at the transcript level to nematode infection, which will allow us to identify key genomic targets and inform efforts to integrate pathogen resistance traits into economically important Cucurbitaceae species. This research is a collaborative initiative with the University of Zimbabwe, and we will train at least two African doctoral candidates while incorporating indigenous knowledge.


Parallel research initiatives

An ongoing parallel research initiative involves digitizing the extensive plant specimen collection at the Zimbabwe National Herbarium in collaboration with the University of Zimbabwe. A postgraduate African scientist is being trained to use state-of-the-art equipment and artificial intelligence to map crop wild relatives linked to herbarium specimens, and to recommend priority species for the national conservation program. Digital curation of specimens will facilitate future genebank creation and use of ancient DNA from herbarium specimens for genomics and climate research.

A proposed research initiative will partner with the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and the University of Tübingen to elucidate the effect of climate change on host-pathogen dynamics in central East Africa using the cassava-cassava mosaic virus pathosystem’s response to elevated temperature as proxy. The research findings will be used to model plant virus evolution, spread and impact in response to climate change; and to formulate strategies for reducing the negative impact of increased temperature on cassava production in begomovirus hotspots.


Available PhD Projects

  • Currently not recruiting PhD students


Selected Reading

  1. Dikobe T, Sehlabane K, Bobo E, Sibanda-Makuvise A, Chatukuta P, Kawadza D, Ruzvidzo O.  An Arabidopsis Pentatricopeptide Repeat is a Moonlighting Protein with Cross-talking in-vitro Adenylyl Cyclase and Kinase Activities. Plant Molecular Biology Reporter 2023.
  2. Chatukuta P, Rey MEC. A cassava protoplast system for screening genes associated with the response to South African Cassava mosaic virus. Virology Journal 2020, 17(184).  http://dx/
  3. Chatukuta P, Dikobe TB, Kawadza DT, Sehlabane KS, Takundwa MM, Wong A, Gehring C, Ruzvidzo O. An Arabidopsis Clathrin Assembly Protein with a Predicted Role in Plant Defense Can Function as an Adenylate Cyclase. Biomolecules 2018 03 23;8(2).
  4. Ruzvidzo O, Dikobe BT, Kawadza DT, Mabadahanye GH, Chatukuta P, Kwezi L. Recombinant Expression and Functional Testing of Candidate Adenylate Cyclase Domains. Methods in Molecular Biology 2013;1016:13-25.
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